It’s hard to know how much we can tell about the state of marriage from the New York Times Style section, but we can figure out at least what’s going on among the a certain segment of the country’s elites. Sunday’s article on “no-nuptials,” agreements among cohabiting couples regarding who will be responsible for what during the relationship and how things will be divided up if and when it ends, is particularly revealing.
One couple interviewed for the article moved in together three years ago and had a baby. They signed a no-nuptial and have been very happy with the results.
Three years later, the couple is still together, in no rush to marry, and Ms. Eckler, for her part, feels more secure having the agreement. "You want to know where you stand from the beginning," she said.
It used to be that marriage helped people figure out where they stand from the beginning but, says Eckler, marriage is “so 2003.” I have no idea what that means except that it’s true fewer Americans are getting married and those that do are putting it off til they are older.
So what’s making it into these agreements? Eckler says hers is the length of a small novel. One lawyer interviewed for the article says that he has represented several women who have given up their careers to raise children and want to make sure that if the relationship ends they won’t get the short end of the stick. The lawyer explains that “what we wanted to do is establish a safety net.”
These couples seem to think that a cohabitation agreement—a kind of business contract—is more secure than marriage. Who knows? They may be right. There are plenty of married women who do wind up having financial problems after divorce because they gave up careers to raise children.
But it is a sad state of affairs. Many of these couples regularly renew their contracts, adding or subtracting provisions if necessary. These contracts seem to be about both creating long term security but also about a kind rejiggering of the relationship if the particular arrangement doesn’t suit one party’s needs at a particular moment in time.
Which brings me to the other article in the Style section. A Modern Love column called “Taking Marriage One Year at a Time.” The author explains how she began to experience “marriage anxiety” on her honeymoon, when she realized that after a three-year relationship she might not want to be married to her husband after all.
Every day I would tell Patrick how I felt. I would say, “I’m not sure I love you,” and he would say, “I know you’re not, but you do.”
The couple has been married for seven years and has a child. “On our anniversary every year, Patrick and I agree to stay married. We renew our contract, so to speak.” I’m sure this story is supposed to be moving. Look at how “intentional” they are about their relationship—how they saw it’s precariousness and decided to do something positive about it. But is this really what a child wants to grow up in—wondering each year whether his or her parents will decide to renew the contract?